Moments in Tenderloin Food Justice History

San Francisco Food not Bombs

Food not Bombs is an international network that uses otherwise wasted food to cook and publically serve food, to whoever is hungry. The group considers its work to be a form of protest against the military-industrial complex and in support of universal access to food, regardless of ability to pay.

In August of 1988, San Francisco Police arrested 9 Food not Bombs activists for serving food without a permit at the Stanyan Street entrance of Golden Gate Park. This began a years-long battle between Food not Bombs and the City of San Francisco over the right to serve free food in public without a permit. Eventually the fight was centered around Civic Center Plaza and the steps of City Hall. After almost ten years and over 1,000 arrests, San Francisco Food not Bombs won the battle and the ability to “legally” feed hungry people. Food not Bombs chapters around the country have had to continue the fight however with chapters in San Jose, Santa Cruz, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale facing arrests and other police harassment in recent years.

As recently as 2012, there were five different Food not Bombs chapters active in San Francisco, three of them feeding the people of the Tenderloin and South of Market every week in United Nations Plaza. Currently the group serves food at 6pm every thursday in the 16th/Mission BART plaza.

The Free Farm

The Free Farm was an urban farm active for five years at the corner of Gough and Eddy Streets. Started by long-time San Francisco urban farm guru Tree Rubenstein, the Free Farm was a true community farm: the land was worked by the community, as a community and for the benefit of the community. All of the food grown on the farm was distributed weekly at two by-donation, sliding-scale farm stands, one at the farm itself and one at The Free Farm Stand in the Mission.

Eventually growing over 5,000 pounds of organic fruits and vegetables, the farm was evicted by the “landowner,” Saint Paulus Lutheran Church, to make room for an allegedly imminent development project. That project has yet to break ground and the land remains vacation and unused.

The Free Farm Stand continues to this day. The stand combines produce harvest from backyard gardens and fruit trees with unsold produce from a local farmer’s market. Every Sunday from 12pm-3pm at 23rd Street and Treat Avenue, food is distributed for free in Parque Niños Unidos.

Tenderloin People’s Garden

Located on the corner of Larkin and McAllister Streets, the Tenderloin People’s Garden is a unique food justice project that’s part of the urban agriculture program of Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation. Farmers Sarah and Alex work with neighborhood residents and other volunteers to farm a small patch of land surrounding a utility building. Additionally, the farm is home to healthy cooking demonstrations, two monthly farm stands where food is distributed for free and a vocational training program, teaching tenderloin residents new skills in the therapeutic environment of the garden.

The Tenderloin People’s Garden is open every Monday, Wednesday and Friday 10am-12pm as well as every Tuesday and Thursday from 3pm-5pm. Produce is available every 2nd and 4th Wednesdays.